Government and organisations at odds over distributing cash as reliefAfter the government prevented domestic and foreign non-government organisations from distributing relief in cash, they write a joint letter to draw its attention.
Plan International (Nepal), an international non-government organisation, had submitted a proposal on Covid-19 preparedness and relief package to the Social Welfare Council nearly three weeks ago.
But it has not got the approval after the government rejected the foreign organisations’ proposal of cash transfer to people who need relief.
“Of the programme worth nearly Rs100 million, only 25 percent will be used for procuring various medical goods while the rest will be distributed as relief packages as per the proposal,” said Durga Prasad Bhattarai, information officer at the council.
“After the Prime Minister’ Office suggested approval of the Plan’s proposal by altering the component of cash distribution, we have told the Plan to revise the proposal.”
Despite committing to frast tracking the proposal to support the fight against Covid-19, the council is delaying approval of the proposal. “If the government tells us to approve the proposal that contains cash transfer, we are ready to do so,” said Bhattarai.
Although the council announced that it would be encouraging fresh inflow of international aid and fast tracking such proposals, the council is yet to approve the Plan’s proposal to transfer cash to vulnerable groups.
In line with the government’s instruction, the council, in a notice on April 22, had reminded the domestic and foreign NGOs that the government’s relief standard prioritises distribution of goods instead of cash considering that people are unable to go to the market during the lockdown and that relief should be distributed through the local government’s mechanism.
In fact, a policy framework issued for domestic and foreign non-government organisations to carry out preparedness and response activities on April 2 allowed them to transfer even cash as relief.
The entire NGO community is united in favour of cash distribution which they say is more transparent than distribution of relief in kind. The Association of International NGOs in Nepal the and NGO Federation of Nepal, in a joint letter addressed to Finance Secretary Sishir Kumar Dhungana on April 27, requested the government to consider the cash transfer option within the government relief standards for unorganised sector workers and destitutes, citing several benefits of cash transfer.
As the domestic and international NGOs have approached the Finance Ministry seeking approval for cash transfer, the decision on the Plan’s proposal will be taken based on what the government instructs, said Bhattarai.
Among the benefits that the joint letter cites are that the cash transfer empowers people and families to buy the food of their choice—for instance wheat or corn instead of rice if they wish—and make them feel more dignified and valued as rights-holders.
The measure would also keep small and medium scale enterprises afloat and thus save the local economy. “There is a high chance the bulk procurement of food items can threaten many small and medium scale businesses,” the letter adds.
“Vulnerable people do not just need to eat—access to cash allows them to respond to the wide range of issues that arise at the household level.”
The letter requests government bodies to focus on making markets functioning through ensuring supplies and quality control.
Achyut Luitel, president of the Association of International NGOs in Nepal, a grouping of foreign NGOs, said the government might have feared that funds could be misappropriated during distribution.
“If the government is not prepared to allow cash transfer out of its own programme, the Ministry of Finance should provide clear guidelines at the local level to allow international and other non-governmental sectors to carry out cash transfer schemes,” the letter stated.
“It is much harder to organise food and non-food items distribution in a way that respects social distancing and avoids spreading the virus and it creates an additional burden on the recipient who needs to arrange for transportation of the goods received.”
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of June 2, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 had spread to 213 countries and infected more than 6,321,836 people with 375,657 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 198,140 with 5,608 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 72,460 confirmed cases with 1,543 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 1,811 cases with eight deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.